Three figures from the world of Green design – a product designer, a marketer and a grassroots designer – talk to Design Week about their approach to sustainability
The product designer Jorre van Ast
By Henrietta Thompson
There are many designers who could claim a closer Pantone match to sustainability-Green than Jorre van Ast. But, like many of his generation, van Ast does not doggedly pursue a worthy eco-regime or shout about it from the Green rooftops – rather, he simply assumes it, and that is what makes his approach so refreshing.
A contingent of Okay Studio, the design collective of Royal College of Art graduates in east London, several of van Ast’s projects offer a slightly skewed version of added-value sustainability that is currently making waves. His Jar Tops, for example, are an ingenious range of screw-on plastic additions to all standard sizes of glass jars – turning them into something worth keeping. Jar Tops – recently put into production by Royal VKB – transform the humble jam pot into all manner of useful vessels: sugar pot, spice cellar, milk can, chocolate sprinkler, mug, water jug, oil and vinegar set. There’s even a top to turn the jar into a generic storage container – so, not changing the use as such, but still making sure the kitchen looks tidier.
Recycling is an important element of the design, but van Ast also found it a frustrating one to focus on during the creative process. ‘Yes, you might be saving a jar, but you are also adding a piece of plastic,’ he explains. ‘Sustainability is not an objective for me in the design process. It’s part of the ABC of design.’
Another project, one for which van Ast has yet to find a producer, uses a similar idea to the Jar Tops. Clampology is simply a series of clamps that enable the user to make more of what they’ve got already: a book stop accompanied by a book finger; a book display, a hook and a rail that clamp on to the side of horizontal surfaces; a hook to clamp on to electrical pipes; a candle holder; and a cable manager that can be clamped on to a table leg.
Van Ast’s products are not so much about recycling, but more about ‘shortcutting’ recycling – putting the jar in a different cycle, namely that of kitchen utensils; by making use of an alternative source, an existing production process and infrastructure. Besides that ‘I think it’s interesting to “pick and mix” the “inferior” jars with these perfect moulded tops, resulting in a strong contrast and variety of “unique” combinations, something which is difficult to achieve using industrial production processes. I hope this makes the product interesting and desirable and, for those reasons, also sustainable,’ he says.
The marketer Tim Ashton
By Sarah Frater
Tim Ashton is the man behind one of the best remembered eco campaigns of recent times, yet the creator of Anya Hindmarch’s ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ didn’t start out as an eco activist. The founder of Antidote is a veteran creative director who has worked with big-name clients including First Direct, Levi Strauss and Absolut vodka. You don’t associate any of them with the Green cause. Indeed, a few years back Ashton re-branded a Formula One motor racing team, which is enough to make Green activists turn white.
Ashton may not have consciously signed up for sustainability, but he seems to have a knack for it. ‘It started with a project for Community Links,’ he explains. ‘It’s an inner-city charity running projects in east London.’
The charity is run by David Robinson, who started the website We Are What We Do. It is based on the philosophical notion of being the change you wish to see in the world, and encourages people to use small steps, or everyday ‘actions’, to change the world. ‘Actions to improve our environment, our health and our communities, and make our planet and the people on it much happier,’ writes Robinson.
The first 100 actions were put into books, Change the World for a Fiver and Change the World from 9 to 5, both designed by Antidote. Together they sold nearly one million copies around the world and spent ten weeks in The Sunday Times best-selling top ten list.
For most, that would be success enough, but then Ashton had the idea of linking up with handbag queen bee Anya Hindmarch and putting one of the ‘actions’ – declining plastic bags at supermarkets – on to her bags. ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ was the result, and eco-marketing history was made. A staggering 120 000 of the £5 jute must-haves were sold within minutes of their launch, with not-so-ladylike scuffles reported among handbag fans.
‘I’m not a plastic bag’ snagged Ashton other eco projects, including a ‘soot’ globe for Carbon Sense, and Change the World at 35 000ft, a joint project for Virgin Atlantic and We Are What We Do. He is now working with advertising agency JWT on a project for Shell to communicate the oil giant’s scenario planning, targeting so-called special publics, including academics, journalists and lobbyists.
Another project, more liquid than Green, is the Neil Morrissey Perfect Pint series for Channel 4, scheduled to air this October. The Men Behaving Badly star will attempt to set up a pub and brew the perfect pint. Morrissey describes it as an ‘everyman’s ale’ that will attract all drinkers – not just ‘men with sparrows in their beards’. Ashton is creating the branding and packaging for the pub, the beer and the brewery, and is also a shareholder in the project.
He stresses that Antidote remains a diverse creative consultancy, with eco projects part of the mix. However, the success of ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ means he’ll be forever associated with the sustainable cause. ‹
The grassroots designer Max Frommeld
By Lynda Relph-Knight
Max Frommeld’s upbringing is as much responsible for his Green thinking as any influence he has encountered since.
Hailing from Ulm on the Bavarian border, he talks fondly of his grandmother and her commonsense approach to housework. Indeed, it was her simple dolly tub that inspired his winning entry in the Audi Design Foundation student contest, Designs of Substance, last year, that sought to make life easier for the people of Mdantsane, a township in South Africa’s East London region.
The project – a laundry system to make hand-washing more efficient – is a key part of his portfolio from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, from which he will be one of the last graduates from the Product and Furniture Design course this year. It is also something he wants to develop for mass-production and is currently seeking funding to develop.
For the ADF project Frommeld used a tree branch, the top sections of three plastic bottles and three plastic buckets to create a system that can be used by people of all ages to wash clothes. He also developed a detergent based on ash.
The bottle tops, two of which are perforated to let the air into the water, are attached to the branch to form a plunger. This is used to pound the clothes contained in one of the buckets – again perforated – which is set in a second, intact bucket. The clothes are drained by lifting out the perforated bucket and rinsed by plunging the whole ensemble into fresh water. Excess water is then squeezed out of the clothes using the third bucket to apply pressure.
Holistic thinking underpins Frommeld’s approach to design, combining left- and right-brain thinking. His father teaches maths and physics and has a workshop at home, but many family friends are artists, so at school he was equally drawn to maths and art and ‘liked making things’.
‘Design is the only field I could imagine working in,’ he says. ‘It’s creative and logical.’
During a compulsory stint in social services in Germany he worked with elderly people, which also informed his ADF project. Using design to enhance the lives of ordinary folk is now one of his missions.
Inspired by a neighbour who had studied there, Frommeld found himself at Ravensbourne almost by chance. ‘After school I didn’t want to force it,’ he says.
He prides himself on spontaneity. ‘I take it as it comes,’ he says, so it’s no surprise that he has no immediate plans for the future. He wants to stay in London, having completed a placement with furniture designer Michael Marriott. ‘I’d like to freelance for several groups’, he says, and apply to the Royal College of Art eventually.
As for sustainability, ‘as a product designer you can’t really dismiss it’, he says. ‘I want to be a versatile designer, but it’s an important part of that.’